UK Fishing Industry — [Sir Henry Bellingham in the Chair]

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 10:08 am on 12th December 2018.

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Photo of Derek Thomas Derek Thomas Conservative, St Ives 10:08 am, 12th December 2018

I congratulate my hon. Friend Mrs Murray on securing this debate. I also congratulate hon. Members on the way in which we have worked together to give everyone an opportunity to speak. I will do what I can to stick to the time I have.

It is good to be able to discuss this issue before next week’s Fisheries Council, and there are a few things about the European Commission that I would like to raise on behalf of fishermen in and around west Cornwall and on the Isles of Scilly. First, bass has been a contentious subject for a few years now. As has been said before, bass is not the biggest share of the fish we catch, but it is a premium fish that is part of all aspects of fishing in west Cornwall. Will the Minister provide some clarity on measures to manage the recovery of bass stock? Have they been effective? Where are we today? What does he expect going forward?

The Commission’s recommendations for next year appear to plan to increase the take for bass for those that target bass, but to continue to restrict the landing of dead bass caught as bycatch. That makes no sense to me. When I have had the opportunity, I have argued that if bass is caught as bycatch and is dead, it makes no sense to discard it, particularly when the Commission wants to fully introduce the discard ban next year. What can anglers expect in and around west Cornwall? What can the inshore fleet and the over-10s expect for bass next year and going forward when we hopefully have more control over how we manage that species?

The Commission’s intention is to fully introduce the discard ban or landing obligation from 1 January. Is that still the commitment? Can that be achieved? Is our fleet prepared for that? It has been a tricky thing to do in recent years. We are throwing away fish that we are not legally allowed to land. What happens if that continues? Fisherman cannot avoid fish that are caught when targeting something else.

Moving on from the Commission, I want to do some blue-sky thinking for the inshore fleet. In Cornwall and my constituency, we have a number of small ports. Newlyn is the fourth biggest port for fishing in the UK, but the small ports and communities rely heavily on the inshore fleet. When we are free of the common fisheries policy and the London fisheries convention, there is a real opportunity to look at how the inshore fleet can help to revive coastal communities and sustain a supply of good-quality fish in the local community. We can also supply a training opportunity and training ground to bring fresh blood into the industry. We have heard how difficult it is to attract new people into fishing. They see no future in it, yet the inshore fleet provides a real opportunity to train safely, learn the craft and move on to a bigger vessel, if that is what they want.

It would be good to talk openly about what can be done for the inshore fleet. Because of the restrictions they already face with the weather and the size of their vessels, people are restrained in how often they can catch and what they can catch. There is a real opportunity to look away from quotas and look at how the inshore fleet can revive communities and the sector.

UK fishing is complex. We have heard today how diverse it is, but we have four key areas. In my constituency, we have the over-10s; the under-10s and the inshore fleet; a mixed fishery—bycatch and discards are a real challenge, because they catch what they never targeted—and sea angling, which is a significant part of our local economy. As we move beyond the common fisheries policy, there is good reason to respond to the asks of the industry. In Cornwall, the fish producers have asked the Government to set up a formal advisory council to guide policy and promote collaboration from Government, devolved Administrations, regions and the industry. It is imperative that the industry sits around that table.

Melanie Onn discussed the challenges of dispute resolution. The fishing community in my community and across Cornwall has asked the Government to set up a dispute resolution mechanism to address differences across the regions, the devolved Administrations and international fisheries so that we do not have years and years of problematic disputes that prevent people from fishing for a living and from providing good nutritious food. Will the Minister give some indication as to whether those two requests—the advisory committee and the dispute resolution mechanism—are being considered seriously?